BALTIMORE – A committee studying a merger of the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore heard Friday from state and city leaders and community members, including many who were opposed to the idea.
Lawmakers linked $1 million in state funding to the submission of a study of the proposal by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents by Dec. 15. Friday’s hearing in Baltimore and a second hearing in College Park next week are part of the process.
College Park is the state’s flagship institution of public higher education with more than 37,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Baltimore has more than 6,000 students and is home to seven professional and graduate schools.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who proposed the merger, told the panel he hopes the move would elevate the merged institution in national standings and attract more research funding. He proposes one university with two campuses and two presidents. He also suggested moving the USM offices from Adelphi to Baltimore.
“No other state in the union operates under this kind of fenced-off system of silos between the state’s major public research institution and the state’s medical profession,”’ he said, noting that only a few other states do not incorporate medical and law schools into their flagship schools.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told the panel that she is concerned that a merger could hurt her administration’s revitalization of the city’s west side, where the university is located. The city and university have worked closely on the effort, which has included improving public safety in the area, and she fears that if decision-making authority moves to another campus, the urgency of these matters would evaporate.
Rawlings-Blake said she believes that improving collaboration would not require a merger.
“I have yet to be convinced that this new proposed structure is a benefit,” Rawlings-Blake said. “I believe it gets us a bigger university, but I am not convinced that it gets us a better university.”
State Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell, D-Baltimore, testified that the city’s senate delegation unanimously voted against the proposal. The delegation doesn’t see the need and is concerned that a merger could hurt other university system schools, spurring “cultural exclusion, racial fragmentation and geopolitical insensitivity.”
USM Chancellor Emeritus Donald Langenberg testified that the cultural differences at the two institutions are profound and a merger could take a decade or more.
“The academic world is like a quilt—some would say a crazy quilt—full of seams that inhibit interaction,”’ Langenberg said. “Merely bringing the two institutions together under one name won’t improve collaboration or bring in more research money.”